Product Management, from its early beginnings in the 1930s all through after World War II years, up to the late 1990s, was a slow and lengthy process. Even with the development of the technology industry, at that time, the process wasn’t speeding up.
Research was done first, developing a prototype and testing it out. It was still rarely tested out with real users in the field. Then a comprehensive product requirements documentation was written for several months. Once it was done, engineering teams would start. The first version of working software was in front of the users over 12 months since the beginning of work, at best, usually even more. And it was always in question if the actual version that would be finished resembled at all to the one described in the initial requirements.
Since technology-driven companies were inventing not only new products, but new industries as well, markets started shifting and speeding up slowly since 1975 and the first PC, and then dramatically from the early 2000s.
The need to respond quickly to the changes, tackle the ambiguity and uncertainty, and minimize the risks that complexity brings, has initiated a search for a different approach to develop products, customers and overall business.
It became necessary not only to understand the needs of customers and users, but also to keep improving and adjusting products continuously and quickly due to the innovations and demands that the global market is bringing. This brought product development back in the center of Product Management.
The main loop of product development: defining the idea, implementing it and gathering feedback needed to speed up dramatically.
This was also the time when the Agile Manifesto emerged.
“On February 11-13, 2001, at The Lodge at Snowbird ski resort in the Wasatch mountains of Utah, seventeen people met to talk, ski, relax, and try to find common ground—and of course, to eat. What emerged was the Agile ‘Software Development’ Manifesto.” – History: The Agile Manifesto
The first principle of the Agile Manifesto says: “Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software.” This was the same thing that everyone in Product Management struggled with.
There were several other similarities in the Agile Manifesto that were true for Product Management as well, like: Welcome changing requirements, even late in development. Agile processes harness change for the customer’s competitive advantage. Deliver working software frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference to the shorter timescale. Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project.
Working software is the primary measure of progress. Etc.
Even though Agile wasn’t the first of the methodologies that attempted to speed up product building and integrate different process stages into one (Scrum, XP, Kanban came before), it was the first one to talk about the focus change: “Customer collaboration over Contract negotiation”.
This shift was a key change in unlocking the true potential in the product development process.
Product Management and Engineering weren’t on the opposite sides of the wall anymore, tossing requirements back and forth. They needed to work together to figure out a way to satisfy customer needs. The roles were clearer: Product Management needed to clarify what problem is to be solved and for which type of users, while Engineering needs to be the one to define how it is going to be solved. So instead of enemies, they became collaborators playing for the same team.
In order to have continuous product discovery and development in short delivery cycles, research, defining requirements and development, basic parts of the initial process had to be merged.
“Focusing on Customer” also brought User Experience into the spotlight, instead of being an afterthought at the end of the development process. It became an integral part of the ongoing process of product discovery and development.
All of the changes that Agile methodology introduced gave it a place it holds today. It’s considered to be an “umbrella” over Scrum, XP, Kanban, Lean and some others. Values it propagates through its principles are nowadays applied on all of these methodologies.
The most recent methodology that introduced further changes in Product Management is Lean Startup by Eric Ries. “It was first proposed in 2008 by Eric Ries, using his personal experiences adapting lean management and customer development principles to high-tech startup companies. The methodology has since been expanded to apply to any individual, team, or company looking to develop new products, services, or systems without unlimited resources. The lean startup’s reputation is due in part to the success of Ries’ bestselling book, The Lean Startup, published in September 2011.” (Wikipedia)
Let’s take a closer look at the Lean Startup methodology in our next article.
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